2023 State of the University Address
January 25, 2023
by Jere W. Morehead, President
Zell B. Miller Learning Center
2023 State of the University Address collateral is available here.
POWERED BY PURPOSE
Good afternoon. Thank you to all the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends joining me today. The State of the University Address is a longstanding UGA tradition, and I am honored once again to report on the state of our great institution.
Though it is hard for me to believe, this academic year marks my tenth year leading the University of Georgia. By any measure, it has been a tremendous decade for our University community, distinguished by historic milestones and unprecedented success. It has been a decade of deep transformation and expanded impact, of bold progress and relentless innovation. For our University—the birthplace of public higher education in America—it has been a decade defined by the power of shared purpose, by the limitless potential of a community linked by a noble mission and propelled by a fierce devotion to service.
In preparation for today’s remarks, I spent some time reviewing one of my first speeches as president: my investiture address, delivered in 2013. During that speech, I posed two closely related questions as I contemplated UGA’s immense potential: Where will we ultimately go as an institution? What is next for the University of Georgia?
Today—during this, my tenth State of the University Address—I would like to revisit these simple yet consequential questions, using them as a guide to consider our institution’s past decade and to imagine the one to come. Today, let us ask ourselves: Where did we go as an institution over the past ten years? What did we achieve together as an academic community? Then, let us cast our gaze ahead and consider: What is next for the University of Georgia?
A DECADE OF IMPACT
Let me begin with the most vital aspect of our mission: educating tomorrow’s leaders. Throughout the past decade, the University of Georgia embraced a bold, ambitious vision of teaching and learning in the twenty-first century. Together, we imagined an institution where students would flourish amid cutting-edge instruction, robust support, and learning opportunities extending to the far corners of the world.
To realize this vision, we transformed classrooms into dynamic learning spaces and became the largest public university in America to ensure that students gain experiential learning beyond the classroom. We recruited additional faculty to reduce class sizes and expanded our corps of advisors to give students more personalized attention. We added tailored support for first-generation students and others from underrepresented backgrounds. We launched the Double Dawgs program, providing more than 250 pathways for students to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years or less. We infused data literacy and writing throughout our curriculum and built an entrepreneurship program to give students additional tools for success in today’s world.
The results have been extraordinary.
Over the past decade, the percentage of first-year students returning for their sophomore year averaged 95%, dramatically exceeding the national average, while our students’ four-year completion rate rose to a record 75%, an astonishing increase of almost 13 percentage points. Our six-year completion rate also reached a new high of 88%, eclipsing many of our peers.
U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of Georgia as a top 20 public institution for seven consecutive years, and our students secured many of the nation’s most distinguished awards. In the last year alone, UGA was the only public institution to have two students selected for the Marshall Scholarship and was one of just three state institutions to have a Rhodes Scholar.
And throughout this remarkable decade, while the academic strength of our student body continued to rise, applications for admission surged by more than 100%, and our enrollment reached an all-time high. Our graduate and professional students also achieved new heights of excellence. Numerous UGA graduate and professional programs earned top 10 national rankings, while several online graduate programs ranked in the top five in U.S. News & World Report’s best online programs rankings.
We also added nearly two and a half million square feet of new facilities and renovated over one million more. From the Science Learning Center, the I-STEM Research Complex, and the Terry College’s Business Learning Community to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, the film studio in the Grady College, and new and renovated residence halls, UGA provided state-of-the-art facilities designed to maximize our students’ potential.
When we embarked upon the past decade, our commitment extended beyond the learning environment, however. Embracing our critical research mission, we envisioned a dynamic ecosystem of exploration and creativity, where UGA scholars would be supported with every feasible resource as they tackled society’s most daunting challenges.
Driven by this vision, we bolstered support for investigators, expanding pre- and post-award services and adding new resources and personnel to our Office of Research. Through 11 hiring initiatives, we recruited more than 150 additional scholars in fields of strategic importance as well as nine new Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholars. We fostered interdisciplinary research and industry partnerships, and we fashioned a place—an Innovation District—where dreamers and innovators could translate ideas into the products and enterprises of tomorrow.
What were the results of these ambitious efforts?
The University’s annual R&D expenditures rose more than 50% over the last decade, surpassing half a billion dollars last year for the first time, while the number of sponsored awards secured by UGA scholars more than doubled. These results were driven by our extraordinary faculty—the heartbeat of our campus—who earned countless accolades, including a MacArthur Genius Award, SEC Professor of the Year, election into several National Academies, numerous Fulbright Scholar Awards, and more.
Intent on bettering lives, our faculty shared their breakthroughs with the world. The number of projects in our startup pipeline grew by 185% over the decade, and more than 400 products based on UGA research were brought to market, including 60 in the past year alone—more than double the number in 2014. As a result, UGA has been named a top five university for research-based products reaching the market for nine consecutive years.
But conducting life-changing research was not enough for the University of Georgia. Ten years ago, when we considered our future as an institution, we pledged to find new ways to engage with community members across our state. Together, we asked: What can the future hold if we recommit ourselves to setting a new standard of public service?
To achieve this vision, UGA’s Public Service and Outreach units tirelessly sought new partnerships and pioneered new programs. They increased access to mentoring and leadership training, expanded resources and guidance to revitalize downtowns, launched programs to help rural communities, and walked hand in hand with entrepreneurs to leverage ideas into small businesses, strengthening the backbone of our state’s economy.
And as we strove to enhance quality of life throughout Georgia, we strengthened our commitment to serving Athens, our home community. Our faculty, staff, and students worked to address food insecurity across Athens-Clarke County, partnered with local schools to enrich after-school programs and increase students’ readiness for college and the workforce, provided medical care to underserved community members, and more.
The results of these many partnerships and programs were astounding.
Over the past decade, the Small Business Development Center assisted more than 30,000 entrepreneurs across Georgia, creating over 3,000 new businesses and 26,000 jobs. UGA’s 4-H programs served over 170,000 students annually, while year-in and year-out, Cooperative Extension faculty and staff provided reliable, research-based information to farmers, families, and communities in every county across Georgia.
It is little wonder that the University’s annual economic impact on our state climbed to a record $7.6 billion or that our service efforts garnered national recognition. This past fall, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, or APLU, recognized UGA with its highest national award for public service for our Archway Partnership, which connects rural communities to University resources.
Another remarkable achievement was the tremendous service we provided to our state and local community during the unprecedented challenges of the global pandemic. Undergirding that response were our incredible staff members, who went above and beyond to ensure the University continued to fulfill its critical mission.
And just last month, amid several consecutive days of subfreezing temperatures, essential UGA staff members spent the holidays away from family to keep our campuses operational—assessing facilities, repairing frozen and damaged infrastructure, and ensuring that those residing on campus were safe.
As you can see, the past decade has been one for the record books across each area of our mission. Without question, strong, consistent investments by our state were key to this success. On behalf of our entire University, I want to take a moment to thank the Governor and the General Assembly, as well as the University System of Georgia Chancellor and Board of Regents, for their unwavering support.
I also want to thank our amazing alumni and friends, who gave record sums to the University of Georgia, including more than $257 million last year. Over the last decade, our benchmark fundraising average surged 84% as donors established hundreds of new scholarships and more than 100 endowed faculty positions. The passionate support of UGA donors was never more evident than during the Commit to Georgia Campaign, the most successful fundraising campaign in University history. Their generosity not only supported academics but also extended to our athletic programs, helping to fund new and upgraded facilities as well as expanded programs to support the well-being of our exceptional student-athletes.
Thanks to the outpouring of support from our donors, our student-athletes had the facilities and resources to excel on the biggest stages of intercollegiate athletics. Who will ever forget our 2021 national football championship—UGA’s first in 41 years—or the stellar accomplishments of this year’s team, including a historic 15-0 record, the SEC Championship, a thrilling win in the Peach Bowl, and a resounding victory in the College Football Playoff National Championship game, earning UGA back-to-back national titles and solidifying our position as an academic and athletic powerhouse. Even with our greatest athletic achievement in history came the heartbreaking reminder of how delicate life is, how quickly those we cherish can be taken from us. Our entire University continues to grieve the loss of Devin Willock and Chandler LeCroy, and we will continue to lift up their families and friends in our thoughts and prayers. We also hope and pray for the full recovery of those injured in this tragic accident.
Finally, as we reflect back on the past ten years, let me say how proud I am of how our University joined together in the crucial work of making our campus more diverse and inclusive through new programs and through college and facility namings that recognize UGA trailblazers such as Mary Frances Early, our first African American graduate; Shirley Mathis McBay, our first African American PhD recipient; and Harold Alonza Black, Mary Blackwell Diallo, and Kerry Rushin Miller, the first African American students to enroll as freshmen and complete their undergraduate degrees. We are excited about the renovation of the Holmes-Hunter Academic Building on North Campus, which is now underway, that will further honor the legacy of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first African American students to enroll at UGA.
Our accomplishments over the past decade paint a clear and compelling portrait of a university that is strong and getting stronger. Yet, while our achievements are worthy of celebration, we must not—we cannot—rest on our laurels. With our vast resources of expertise, and with our considerable momentum, UGA is positioned—like never before—to reach new heights of excellence. We stand at a critical juncture, with tremendous opportunity awaiting us. Where will the University of Georgia go from here?
The answer is clear. In the decade to come, we will do exactly what America has come to expect from the nation’s first state-chartered university. Driven by our mission and with a relentless pursuit of excellence, we will reach higher than ever before to teach, inquire, and serve to shape a better, brighter tomorrow.
With our strategic plan guiding our investments, we will further transform the learning environment through world-class instruction and programming. A cornerstone of this work will be our Active Learning Initiative, an ambitious effort to ignite a culture of active learning. With significant investments in classroom renovations, faculty training, and student programming, our Active Learning Initiative will help UGA students engage even more in the classroom while supporting instructors as they utilize evidence-based teaching strategies.
Active learning will work in close concert with our celebrated experiential learning initiative. To date, more than 43,000 UGA students have gained a competitive edge through internships, research, and other applied learning experiences. In the coming decade, we will expand experiential learning to help our students gain skills in critical thinking and teamwork to help them thrive in a rapidly evolving world. Our impressive study away campuses will play a significant role. Delta Hall, which opened in 2015 in the heart of Capitol Hill, is home to the UGA in Washington program. In 2019, the UGA Cortona Program in Italy celebrated its 50th anniversary, while UGA at Oxford recently marked its 30th anniversary.
Another key area of growth will be our domestic field study programs, which provide experiential learning through courses based off campus throughout the United States. These courses serve as high-impact, cost-effective options for students to gain immersive study away experiences. To expand our portfolio of these enriching opportunities, we will leverage the approach of our successful Active Learning Summer Institute and launch a Field Study Fellows Program in June to help faculty develop a suite of new field study programs.
While there are unique benefits to experiential learning, these opportunities can entail costs that are out of reach for some students. To date, we have offered almost $1.5 million in scholarships and created endowments to offset the costs of experiential learning. But we can—and we will—do more. Today, I am committing an additional $1 million to support and expand experiential learning scholarships, and I encourage our passionate donors to make additional investments in this important cause.
As we look to the decade ahead, we also must recommit ourselves to ensuring that UGA students are afforded every opportunity to succeed through robust academic support tailored to their needs. A powerful tool in this effort will be our new Connect and Complete program, which is launching this semester to assist students experiencing academic difficulties and who are at risk of early withdrawal. Through Connect and Complete, UGA staff will use data and early alert systems to identify these students and initiate proactive support centered around their unique circumstances.
I am also pleased to announce a pilot project to assist third- and fourth-year students who are in good academic standing but who face growing financial challenges. Many of these students may have lost scholarships or employment and are struggling to complete their education. By providing a quarter of a million dollars in targeted, need-based completion grants, we will ensure that UGA is maximizing every resource to help these students earn their degree.
In the coming decade, we also will continue to elevate and improve the student experience. To this end, I recently formed the Task Force on Student Support and Services to explore consolidating key services under a one-stop shop model. I am pleased to announce today that I have accepted the task force’s recommendation of a hybrid one-stop shop, furthering UGA’s commitment to students. Leveraging the University’s strengths in technology and services, the one-stop shop will be available both virtually and in person. A dynamic website, linked to the UGA Mobile App, will help students learn about and utilize the University’s wide array of services, from housing and financial aid to advising and career readiness. Admitted and current students, as well as recent graduates, will receive tailored resources and support for their respective needs. Complementing the website will be a physical location in Student Care and Outreach within the Tate Center, where students can receive in-person assistance to navigate complex questions. The one-stop shop will be developed this spring and summer, with a launch planned by fall 2023.
As a land-grant university, we will forever commit ourselves to supporting the state’s workforce needs as well. For instance, as Georgia’s requirement for highly skilled talent rose over the past decade, we expanded our enrollment in graduate- and professional-level programs by almost 20% while raising graduate assistant stipends eight out of the last nine years and reducing mandatory fees for graduate and professional students by almost 40%. We initiated a Graduate Student Degree Accelerator Fund and a Graduate Student Emergency Fund and launched new scholarship initiatives to recruit the nation’s best graduate and professional students.
As we look to the future, the strong demand for graduate and professional programs delivered at our extended campuses and online will steadily rise. Therefore, we are dedicated to developing innovative graduate and professional degrees and certificate programs that address immediate and future needs in Georgia’s labor market. And thanks to a generous allocation made by the UGA Foundation last fall, most of our schools and colleges are now raising matching funds to expand opportunities for graduate and professional students.
To further increase our impact in the coming decade, we must also continue to recruit and retain the excellent staff who support our students and faculty in countless ways. Securing pay increases for UGA’s outstanding faculty and staff in this inflationary economy is the University’s top budget priority and will continue to be as long as I am president. I am proud that UGA has increased its minimum hiring rate nine out of the last ten years. We have elevated salaries for part-time and student employees and made significant investments to address salary compression and inversion for those earning $80,000 or less each year. We are grateful that this year’s state budget included cost-of-living adjustments benefiting all UGA faculty and staff. And thanks to a multiyear initiative to expand professional development, our staff now have access to more programs than ever to develop professionally and advance their careers.
However, while we have made tremendous strides, we know that our work is not done. In the decade ahead, we will continue to advocate for merit-based salary increases; we will develop career ladders as a roadmap for staff progression and promotion; and we will further expand innovative professional development offerings for staff. To this end, I am pleased to extend our investment in the Engage & Learn program by directing another $200,000 to address critical workforce and development needs across campus.
The University’s next decade also will be marked by a relentless effort to drive discovery that improves our world. Continuing to build the strength of our faculty will be essential to this goal. Recent hiring initiatives have focused on developing interdisciplinary expertise in brain and behavioral health and integrative precision agriculture, while the ongoing presidential hiring initiative in data science and artificial intelligence has been expanded to recruit up to 70 tenure-track faculty members who will answer questions of critical importance across a variety of academic disciplines.
To remain one of the nation’s top research universities, however, UGA also must maximize facilities devoted to scientific inquiry. Over the past decade, we have added or renovated over 600,000 square feet of research space, and our comprehensive capital plan combines new and renovated research facilities to achieve our future goals. In the coming year, we will open a new, cutting-edge Poultry Science Building that will enhance our capacity to support Georgia’s vital poultry industry. We also will advance the second phase of the Science and Ag Hill modernization initiative, a multiyear plan to renovate and modernize hundreds of thousands of square feet devoted to research and innovation.
In addition, we will continue to build industry partnerships that expand the impact of our talented faculty and students. Our Innovation District will play a key role, connecting our campus with the business community and providing pathways for ideas and inventions to reach the market and change lives. Today, I am pleased to announce the Innovation District’s newest initiative, the UGA Industry Ambassador Program, a three-year pilot designed to further strengthen our industry engagement. Through this initiative, the University will select three to five Industry Ambassadors each year to facilitate industry partnerships and to become part of an Industry Advisory Council to sustain our partnership momentum. Ambassadors will provide regular input on our business engagement activities while connecting our vast innovation capabilities to their companies and business communities. This program will broaden the visibility of faculty research and innovation, generate new experiential learning opportunities for our students, and elevate the University’s position as an economic driver across the state and beyond. Look for more information on this exciting program in the weeks ahead.
I would like to close my remarks today by expressing my deepest gratitude to you, the UGA community. Throughout the past decade, I have been continually inspired by your talent and ingenuity, your hard work and dedication, and your unwavering commitment to the mission of this institution. Year after year, you have provided a vivid reminder of our profound capacity to benefit society, of UGA’s immense power to improve lives today, while enriching countless others tomorrow as the impact of our teaching, research, and service reverberates across generations.
And because of you, over the past decade the University of Georgia distinguished itself like never before. Through a relentless pursuit of excellence, we created a world-class learning environment for our students. We explored the frontiers of knowledge and harnessed discoveries to improve the human condition. And we extended knowledge and resources to every county in Georgia, helping countless individuals secure a better future.
I have no doubt: the past decade will long be remembered as one of our best. But, in my view, it will be eclipsed by the decade to come. The world will call out for solutions. Businesses and communities will search for new leaders. Our state will look to UGA to enrich lives and create economic opportunities. And when they do, the University of Georgia will powerfully answer the call. Bound together by our mission and driven by a solemn obligation to serve, we will inspire others to imagine the impossible; we will push the boundaries of teaching and learning; we will seek solutions to grand challenges; and we will reach higher—and push farther—to build a better tomorrow for individuals and communities across our state, nation, and world.
Thank you for making the University of Georgia’s past decade truly historic, and thank you for all you will do to make the coming decade even better. I am honored to serve with you as we continue to reach new heights of excellence.